The Space Between: Nature and Machine Heuristics in Evaluations of Organisms, Cyborgs, and Robots

Jaime Banks, Autumn P. Edwards, David Westerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Cues delivered by agents are known to trigger mental shortcuts associated with ontological category or the kind of thing an agent is. Two such heuristics are key to considering organic and machine agents, and result in biased evaluations: the machine heuristic (MH) (if machine, then systematic/unbiased, therefore its products are good) and the nature heuristic (NH) (if natural, then pure/innate, therefore good). As machine agents such as robots are increasingly integrated into human spheres, it is yet unknown (a) if invocation of agent-cued heuristics is inherently tied to activities and (b) whether either/both heuristics are evoked when agents exhibit both organic and machinic properties (as with cyborgs). To investigate these open questions, a 3 × 2 experiment tasked individuals with considering a magazine article about an agent (organism, cyborg, robot) performing behaviors (natural, technical) to solve a widespread problem, and then evaluating the agent and its solution for markers of machine and NHs. Findings indicate that the NH may be dominant over the MH; however, this primacy may be driven by operational contexts. Post hoc analysis suggests that agent category grounds interpretations of agent behaviors that, in turn, drive biased evaluations of behavioral outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-331
Number of pages8
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • fuzzy sets
  • hybridity
  • machine heuristic
  • naturalistic fallacy
  • nature bias
  • ontological categories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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